Ideas for the Next 20 Years of Palo Alto Transportation


Palo Alto is updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan, setting guidelines for the coming decades.  You can share your ideas about the future of transportation in Palo Alto on this city website

This is your chance to provide comment on Palo Alto's Transportation Element, and you can do it in 5 minutes or less. Please respond before September 3rd to have your comments incorporated as part of the recommendations of the CAC!

Share your ideas now, or check out our food for thought as you consider your suggestions.

Sustainable Transportation

The the first topic on the city’s website is sustainability.  Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Palo Alto, accounting for 60% if the city’s carbon footprint.  What can be done to reduce this carbon footprint?

There are notable opportunities to increase sustainable commuting. According to a recent survey, about 55% of people commuting to downtown Palo Alto drive alone, while 45% take transit, walk, bicycle, or carpool. Palo Alto is creating a Transportation Management Association to help reduce solo driving. The data in the survey suggests promising ideas to reduce trips, such as the following:

  • Helping commuters get to Caltrain, using shuttles and services such as Lyft/Uber.

  • Providing discount transit passes.

  • Promoting the use of ZipCars so that employees can run errands in the middle of the day without having to drive their own car.

Palo Alto can also learn from the plethora of successful programs that have been implemented or piloted in our neighboring cities, as we cover below.

Reducing driving

Other cities in the area have sustainable transportation initiatives that Palo Alto might be able to learn from.  Stanford achieved a steep decline in solo driving - from over 70% to under 50% today.  This transformation was a response to a “trip cap” imposed by Santa Clara County - the university could add buildings and employees as long as it did not add new vehicle trips.

Mountain View and Menlo Park are adopting similar vehicle trip limits.  Mountain View has set a limit of 45% drive-alone mode share in North Bayshore where Google is.  Menlo Park set a parking limit for Facebook, helping it achieve about a 50% share of sustainable transportation.  Menlo Park is also proposing a 50% limit for new developments.

Safe bicycling

Palo Alto has been a leader in support for safe bicycling, with the nation’s first bicycle boulevard on Bryant Street, and is expanding the bicycle boulevard system.  Other cities are moving forward with plans that Palo Alto might learn from.

  • Menlo Park City Council is moving toward a pilot of buffered bike lanes on El Camino Real (read more)

  • Mountain View is moving forward with plans for cycle tracks on California Street and Shoreline, with a boost from Google’s plans to increase bike commuting from an astonishing 20% today (among nearby workers) to a Copenhagen-style 40%. (read more) 

Reduce commutes by bringing housing closer to jobs

Neighboring cities are looking at providing more housing to help relieve commuting congestion.  Mid-Peninsula cities including Palo Alto have many more jobs than homes, contributing to heavy in-commuting. Mountain View’s environmental study for the North Bayshore area (where Google is) showed that adding housing would reduce the amount of commute traffic, since more people would have the choice to live near where they work.

Mountain View is now studying adding housing and services to evolve the office park into a neighborhood. Menlo Park is updating its plans for the area near Facebook, and is studying up to 4500 new units of housing, along with services, to meet today’s market preferences for “Live Work Play” places, and help reduce commute traffic.


Regional Cooperation

Palo Alto depends on a regional transportation system, and the survey asks about participating in regional improvements. Caltrain, which connects San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, is core to Palo Alto’s transportation.  With over 7,000 average weekday boardings, the downtown station is the second-most popular station on the line after San Francisco’s 4th and King.  Caltrain trains have been running full - support will be needed to enable Caltrain to carry double the ridership in the next decade (read more)

 Other opportunities to improve regional transit include:

  •  Public express buses on highway 101 (read more)
  • Reviving the Dumbarton Rail project connecting to the East Bay

  • Providing seamless service across the Bay Area’s transit agencies (read more)


Parking and Convenient Access

The survey asks for ideas about parking.  

Palo Alto is starting to study the potential for paid parking downtown. Cities including Redwood City, San Mateo and Burlingame find priced parking is not an obstacle to a thriving downtown, but does make it easier for people to find spaces.  Up-to-date technology allowing payment by credit card and mobile phone avoids the hassle of fishing for change.

As for employee parking, Palo Alto is currently subsidizing employee parking by about $3000 per year downtown, making driving more attractive than taking transit.  If parking was subsidized less, and the savings were used to provide programs to reduce driving, we’d see less traffic and less carbon emissions.  And also less need to build more parking garages.

Just as reducing energy use is more cost-effective than building a new power plant, reducing parking demand is the more cost-effective than building new parking structures.  By investing in programs to reduce driving, Palo Alto could reduce the amount of expensive parking structures that need to be built going forward.

It’s good for a city to promote convenient access - with parking as only one of several ways to provide convenient access.  Other cities, including San Mateo, are starting to use in-lieu fees and parking revenues to support transit and multi-modal access.  Palo Alto could achieve more sustainable transportation, by investing in helping people get to Palo Alto destinations without driving.

Check out our blog post about the unintended consequences of subsidized parking in Palo Alto!

Share Your Ideas!

This is your chance to share your ideas on Palo Alto transportation, as the city begins to set policy for the next 20 years in its Transportation Element!  You can do it in five minutes or less.

Share your ideas now!

Please respond before September 2nd to have your comments incorporated as part of the recommendations of the CAC!


  • Anonymous
    commented 2017-11-07 23:27:23 -0800
    It’s really true: “A turbo-charged policy change of reducing driving subsidies could switch the incentives in a way that is financially favorable for businesses and the city without taking a toll on price sensitive employees.”
  • Anonymous
    commented 2017-11-07 23:27:20 -0800
    It’s really true: “A turbo-charged policy change of reducing driving subsidies could switch the incentives in a way that is financially favorable for businesses and the city without taking a toll on price sensitive employees.”


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